Environmental Sciences vs. Studies

A question we get a lot from students and colleagues on campus is “What is the difference between Environmental Studies and Environmental Sciences?”. We’ve developed an answer, and it goes like this:

Although many majors across campus touch on issues related to the environment, there are now two new majors that are centered on the subject. These exciting new opportunities may interest you if you are seeking study or careers related to the environment.

Despite their similar names: environmental STUDIES, and environmental SCIENCE, they have important differences from their curriculum to their emphasis. There are many exciting and useful ways to study about and take action on our environmental challenges–for example, you might strive to be an expert in the science of an environmental issue, or apply your efforts and skills to political organizing. The two majors are designed to provide you with these pathways that will tap your strengths and interests toward the environmental challenges of the future – one likely to be a better fit for you than the other.

First, Environmental SCIENCE. This major draws on fundamental scientific knowledge in mathematics, chemistry, physics, and biology to provide advanced scientific understanding of contemporary environmental challenges, , such as for example, air and water pollution, or the potential for alternative energy supplies.

In contrast, Environmental STUDIES provides a broadly integrated understanding to the social, political, historical, and scientific facets of our environmental challenges. For example, why do so many people doubt what the scientific experts know about global climate change?

Another important difference between the two majors is that Environmental STUDIES is only offered as a second major–you must have another major in order to complete Environmental STUDIES. Your other major can be almost anything, from dance to art history to zoology to even Environmental Science.

Environmental SCIENCE is a stand-alone major–it can be your sole major home.

Both majors are intellectually challenging and will deepen your understanding of the pressing environmental issues of our times. In STUDIES you will work to understand environmental problems from several very different perspectives: political power, cultural traditions, and our scientific understanding of the issue. In SCIENCE you will develop a deeper command of the scientific knowledge underlying environmental challenges and understand the chemistry, physics and biology of the environment. All of these ways of thinking about the environment are important and exciting–but some may align particularly closely with your personal interests and strengths.